Did the first players even use miniatures? If they did, how did they acquire such things?

The main reason I'm asking is because I'm looking for a cost effective way to create my own miniatures. I've looked into pewter molds and different polymer clays and things like "green stuff".

The world of mini making is daunting. If you're the kind of person that likes making their own tabletop games, borrowing from another game is way easier than crafting your own, especially with all the options to choose from.

It occured to me that the first game, the first real fantasy tabletop game wouldn't even have a game to borrow from. How did they do it? Where did all these techniques come from? Did they just use tokens when they wanted to use anything that didn't come from the Chainmail game they played back then?


2 Answers 2


Role playing came out of wargaming, virtually all of which used miniatures. Chainmail was just one of hundreds of miniature-driven wargames, mostly historical military in nature. Sci-fi and fantasy wargames became popular in the 1960s and 1970s, especially in the wake of the popularity of The Lord of the Rings, so there were many products to choose from.

In fact, at the time, wargame rules tended to spring up around miniature products and not vice versa. Gary Gygax originally became interested in 40mm Elastolin miniatures in the late 1960s and participated in writing various historical wargames to use them prior to Chainmail. A detailed account of this evolution is available in the Chainmail Wikipedia entry.

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    \$\begingroup\$ If you'd like a quote, here's one from an advertisement for GenCon VII (at which D&D would make its convention debut): "A new series of three booklets of rules have been released. They deal with 'Sword & Sorcery' rules only. Volume #1 is Men & Magic, Volume #2 is Monsters & Treasures, and #3 is Underworld & Wilderness Adventures. They are for miniatures players and cost $3.50 each or $10.00 a set. From: Tactical Studies Rules." Signal #57, May 1974. \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Dec 29, 2017 at 21:34

It's true that D&D play evolved out of the century-long tradition of miniature wargames, and was sold to that market of players; and also used terminology like "miniature wargame" prior to newer terms such as "role-playing game" being commonly accepted.

However, Gygax asserted that the transition from Chainmail to D&D was actually the occasion for his group to drop the use of miniatures (ENWorld, 2003).

I don't usually employ miniatures in my RPG play. We ceased that when we moved from CHAINMAIL Fantasy to D&D.

I have nothing against the use of miniatures, but they are generally impractical for long and free-wheeling campaign play where the scene and opponents can vary wildly in the course of but an hour.

The GW folks use them a lot, but they are fighting set-piece battles as is usual with miniatures gaming.

I don't believe that fantasy miniatures are good or bad for FRPGs in general. If the GM sets up gaming sessions based on their use, the resulting play is great from my standpoint. It is mainly a matter of having the painted figures and a big tabletop to play on.

For more on the traditions that led up to D&D, I recommend Jon Peterson's excellent Playing at the World.


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